By Lee Egerstrom
Privately owned Birchbark Books and Native Arts has opened a second store in Minneapolis to house special events for authors and artists and to conduct its expanding online business for individual customers, schools, libraries and tribes.
The original bookshop, at 2115 W. 21st St., was opened in 2001 by Pulitzer Prize winning author Louise Erdrich, a Minnesotan by birth but also a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa in North Dakota. It conducted special events over the years at nearby galleries and churches.
The second store, at 1629 Hennepin Ave. in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis, got up and running in March and will be known by two different names for specific purposes. The area with space for events, such as authors’ readers, is called Birchbark Bizhew, using the Ojibwe word for Lynx. School and online order business will be conducted in space to be known as Birchbark Lynx.
This building is essentially a warehouse with necessary space for Birchbark to conduct and expand its online business and host special events, said Halee Kirkwood (Fond du Lac Ojibwe), an events manager.
The first major event at Birchbark Bizhew was on March 25, Kirkwood said. Author Carole Lindstrom and illustrator Steph Littlebird presented and discussed their new children’s book, My Powerful Hair (Abrams Books, 2023).
Lindstrom is a best-selling author of Anishinaabe and Metis origin and is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band. Littlebird, a member of the Confederated tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, is an artist, curator and writer.
Their new book highlights the cultural importance of hair within Indigenous communities. It explains how hair length was attacked during the racist Indian boarding school era when students were taken from homes to be assimilated into white society.
That story line has strong ties to founder Erdrich and Birchbark Books. Her sixteenth book, The Night Watchman (Harper 2020), won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In what could be called a loving tribute from her college alma mater, Dartmouth College writers noted the Pulitzer committee described her book as “a majestic, poly- phonic novel about a community’s efforts to halt the proposed displacement and elimination of several Native American tribes in the 1950s, rendered with dexterity and imagination.” Although fiction, the story line is actually a retelling of the work Erdrich’s grandfather, a night watchman at a factory near the Turtle Mountain Reservation, did to help preserve cultural and sovereign identities. Following in those footsteps, Erdrich recently reminded readers of the New York Times that her Minneapolis book- store is actually located on “Dakota land.” She added that her goal was to have a store that supported Indigenous cultures, languages, authors and artists. Birchbark Native Arts is an online sister business of the original bookstore. It, too, has the same objective of promoting Indigenous arts and artists in the same way the bookstore business supports Indigenous literature.
It has a variety of products made by Indigenous-owned companies, including Native Wisdom Skincare, Makwa Studio, Romona Farms and Seka Hills. But consistent with its other expanding business activities, it specializes in working “one on one” with talented local artists, it says on its website.
A featured artist over the past month is a Birchbark staffer and resident artist, Jack Theis (Manitoba Metis Federation). Described as a “bookseller and bead-worker,” the artist and Native Studies and languages scholar (Winnipeg) seeks to expand his beadwork art to connect, or incorporate, with other forms such as porcupine quillwork, caribou hair tufting, and silk and moose hair embroidery.
The Birchbark Books website notes that Theis hopes to collaborate with other Native writers, designers and film-makers with his arts.
Artists and authors are frontline keepers of Native culture. The Native Arts business makes that point on its website and explains how the new site and its space will help serve people and Native cultures far beyond the Twin Cities metro area.
“Many of Birchbark Books’ most loyal customers do not live locally,” it said. “Birchbark Native Arts is, in part, fulfilling a demand to browse and purchase our handmade items virtually.”
Kirkwood said a large and growing part of the business is with bulk orders and online shopping from throughout the United States and Canada. “Shopping” is done online at the https://birchbarkbooks.com and https://birchbarknativearts.com